Published: Sat, June 16, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Yemen rebel attack kills 12 soldiers south of Hodeida

Yemen rebel attack kills 12 soldiers south of Hodeida

Forces of the western-backed coalition, led by Emirati troops, have advanced to within metres of the airport, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television quoted Yemeni military officials as saying.

Forces from an alliance of Arab states seized two entrances to the airport in Yemen's main port city on Friday, in an offensive against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that the United Nations fears could trigger a starvation imperilling millions of lives.

"We saw the resistance forces in the square at the northwestern entrance to the airport", said a Hodeidah resident, referring to Yemeni allies of the Saudi-led Arab alliance.

Despite heavy losses in recent weeks, the Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi issued a message of defiance on the rebels' Al Masirah TV channel on Thursday, calling on people in provinces under Houthi control to send their sons to join the rebels fighting in Hodeidah.

A United Nations diplomatic source said five commercial vessels were offloading at the port.

The United Arab Emirates, a driving force in the coalition, said four of its troops were killed on the first day of the offensive.

Meanwhile, Colonel Aziz Rashed, the spokesman for an army unit allied with the Houthis, told a news conference in the capital, Sanaa, that the rebels foiled a naval attack by government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition in waters off Hodeida.

Besides blocking the rebels weapons supply, he said re-establishing government control of Hodeidah will have an "immediate and profound positive impact, as it will open up a corridor for humanitarian assistance that has been impeded by Houthi rebels for two years".

"We believe that this operation is a critical step toward achieving a political solution to this conflict", the Emirati ambassador to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, told reporters in a briefing.

"They did not encourage us, but did not discourage us", the official said.

Arab warplanes and warships continued to pound Houthi positions in Yemen's Hodeida on Friday, in an operation called "Golden Victory", to capture the strategic harbour that is the main entry point for food in a country on the brink of a starvation.

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"We are in an area close to the airport, but not to the sea port". Aden has served as his government's temporary capital since 2015.

The coalition's blockade and fighting have disrupted other supply lines, causing an economic crisis that makes food too expensive for many to afford.

Capturing Hodeidah would be the biggest victory for the Saudi-led coalition since the start of its costly intervention. "Its objective would be to facilitate the safe transport of humanitarian aid to the population of the city", it said. Human rights groups criticise them over air strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians.

"They were united in their deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation and reiterated their call for the ports of Hodeidah and Salif to be kept open", Nebenzia told reporters.

But the council brushed aside a call by Sweden, a non-permanent member, for a freeze to the military operation to allow time for talks on a rebel withdrawal from the Red Sea port.

The U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is due to arrive in Sanaa on Saturday.

He said it would take Arab forces about 72 hours to clear mines from Hodeidah's port or airport once it captures them.

The official said the coalition has rolled out a plan for humanitarian aid, including plans to establish a shipping lane to Hodeidah from Abu Dhabi and Jizan, a southern city in Saudi Arabia.

Retaking the port "means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun", the U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a statement.

But aid agencies have warned the world's worst humanitarian disaster will only worsen if the coalition attacks the city, which is home to some 400,000 people.

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